Manila — I went to Catholic schools for 14 straight years of my young life, from elementary (basic or primary in other countries), high school and college. In the first 10 years, I wore blue and white uniforms in a school run by missionary nuns of a Belgian-founded religious order. In college, I wanted to free myself from uniforms but for some irksome situation, I wore white and blue uniforms again for four years in the oldest existing Catholic university in Asia run by Dominicans.
Growing up meant attending the Holy Mass in Sunday dress and, a few times as a little girl, a veil, with my parents and siblings. Holidays of obligation also required attending mass. I was taught that I could not receive communion if I didn't go to confession first. I was in the choir. I was able to memorize the feasts of which saints in the yearly calendar. The biggest dates are Holy Week and Christmas.
In my grown-up years, I slowly freed myself from religious obligations. My parents would scold me if I miss Sunday mass, but their loss of strict supervision over me put me in luck, because all those years, I felt that religion and its rituals were repressive. I wished that I could pray alone, in my own time, not in a large crowd of people who often scrutinize each other's Sunday wear. I wished that I could walk out from having to listen to a priest pontificate about the scruples of living when I disagreed with what he was saying.
I longed for a more private way of practicing my faith. I searched for more meaning into why and how people practice their religions and rituals. Good thing I had the chance to work and live in a Buddhist country and had work colleagues who profess to Islam.
I longed for a more private way of practicing my faith. I searched for more meaning into why and how people practice their religions and rituals.
There was a Catholic Church but I didn't go to mass; a few times I went to pray or light candles. I visited Buddhist shrines and prayed with monks, bought lotus flowers and raised them with joss sticks to offer my prayers to Buddha. I poured water on Buddha statues and floated flowers on the river. I was fascinated with the Buddhist belief of achieving happiness by clearing the mind of worldly distractions.
I couldn't join my Muslim colleagues in their prayer but I respected when they had to leave work to pray. I admired the Islamic belief that being happy means being grateful for the blessings that come our way, for this will bring contentment.
Last month, Holy Week fell in mid-April. The religious observance under the Catholic calendar is about the suffering and death of Jesus Christ and the redemption of the Christian world from sins during his resurrection.
During the Lenten season, I relish memories of going to church to do the 14 Stations of the Cross while praying the Holy Rosary. I did that one time with friends, and I miss doing the Catholic tradition of visiting churches, or visita iglesia, with them.
I may no longer be the little girl in Sunday dress, but still go to church to pray, especially when no one is there. The perpetual adoration chapel is so quiet I could feel God. I still believe that there is nothing more comforting than kneeling, clasping both hands and submitting to a force that is divine and almighty. I still have rosaries at home. I thank God every day. I pray every day that I will be safe. I pray that God help those whose difficulties are more than mine. And the best that I can ask for to make the world better is to pray for world peace.
Diana Mendoza is a veteran journalist based in Manila.